There have been plenty of laggards in the restaurant business this earnings season, but Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) hasn't been one. Winter storms that slowed business to most eateries in January and the more problematic trends gnawing away at eating out in general during the balance of the quarter just didn't apply to Chipotle.
The rapidly expanding chains saw comparable-restaurant sales soar 13.4 percent during the first three months of the year, bucking against the negative showings at most of the casual dining, fast food and even quick-service operators that have already reported.
This is the kind of development that the market would naturally interpret as good news, but Chipotle hasn't been as lucky. In fact, the country's favorite burrito roller saw its stock hit a three-month low to kick off this new trading week, fetching levels last seen in late January.
Investors are getting skittish about what they're seeing on the way down to the bottom line at Chipotle, likely unaware that today's challenge is tomorrow's opportunity.
From coffee to milk, shrimp to limes, many food items are a lot more expensive than they were a year ago. That's inflation rearing its ugly head.
Chipotle isn't adding shrimp to its menu anytime soon, and it just started testing coffee at a couple of airport locations late last year. However, it has been at the mercy of other menu components moving higher lately. The fast casual darling singled out the escalating costs of beef, avocados and cheese for nibbling away at its margins during this year's first quarter.
The margin contraction was evident in Chipotle's latest quarterly report. Revenue climbed 24.4 percent as the combination of brisk expansion and hearty comps fueled another top-line pop. Net income, on the other hand, only rose 8.5 percent when pitted against last year's freshman quarter.
A big reason for less of Chipotle's sales making it down to the bottom line is inflation. Food costs as a percentage of revenue has gone from 33 percent a year ago to 34.5 percent now. Spoiler alert: it's going to get worse in the near term. Chipotle's targeting food costs to eat up more than 36 percent of its revenue in the next couple of quarters, forcing analysts to scale back their earnings estimates for the current quarter.
Higher Prices Aren't the End of the World
The inflation is real. Cheese prices are expected to climb 10 percent this year, and it's even worse on the beef side where Chipotle's paying 25 percent more for its steak than it was when the year began. Everything from farmland droughts to a 30 percent reduction in California avocado production will result in Chipotle paying more to serve you that next foil-wrapped barbacoa burrito with cheese and guacamole.
Chipotle has swallowed the increases so far, but a response is now coming after Chipotle missed Wall Street's profit forecast during the first quarter.
"With all of this food inflation we have seen so far and expect to continue to see, we've decided to increase our menu prices," Chipotle announced during its mid-April earnings call.
This is Chipotle's first company-wide increase in three years. It has gradually adjusted prices in some markets as competitive pressures allowed in the past, but now it has little choice but to introduce new menu boards this summer with slightly higher prices.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Customers won't like it, but they're not likely to complain. The beauty of running a popular restaurant at a time of food inflation is that patrons will actually see bigger increases if they simply eat at home. After all, if items at the grocery store to assemble your meal theoretically doubled in price you would be treated to a 100 percent increase. Since food costs are a little more than a third of Chipotle's sales, passing on those costs to consumers would be closer to a 35 percent increase to keep profits intact.
This is an extreme illustration, of course. Only some components have been moving higher. Chipotle believes that the increase will average somewhere in the mid-single-digits. In short, that carnitas bowl will cost you a little more, but it's not likely to break the bank.
That should come as a relief to Chipotle fans heading out to lunch once the new menu boards get updated this summer, but it should also come as an even bigger relief for investors that weren't rewarded for owning the stock during an otherwise impressive quarter.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill.
12 Ways to Save Money on Food
That Chipotle Burrito Bowl Will Soon Cost You More
This advice applies to adults and kids alike. Plan out your shopping list before you head to the grocery store so you’re not tempted by impulse buys, and let any children along for the ride know that you plan on sticking with that list. Small expenditures add up to big money, so try to avoid giving in to any last-minute requests.
If your children continue to insist that you purchase their requested items, then ask them to bring their own piggy bank money. Remind your children they are only allowed to pick something they can afford. It's good practice for grown-up budgeting.
You might not have 20 hours a week to scour multiple publications for the best deals, but if you focus on searching for online coupons, you'll end up saving just as much. Search online for products with the word "coupon" afterward. For instance, if you're looking for Cascade dish soap, search for "Cascade dish soap coupons."
To make sure that you don't waste money on impulse buys, schedule your shopping around paydays. The day or day after you get paid should be your shopping day. Before you go shopping, make a list and make sure it has everything you'll need until the next shopping day on it. Now make a commitment to yourself that you will make what you're going to purchase last until the next shopping day.
Stocking your freezer with frozen meals can help you save money on lunch, since they cost just about $5 each. It can even be a healthier option because they help you practice portion control. Just make sure you're purchasing meals that have no preservatives, and watch out for sodium levels.
Don't waste your time making a sack lunch every day. Instead, prepare a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, and your body will thank you for the extra 10 to 30 minutes of sleep you'll gain each night. If you cook one big meal on Sunday, make sure it's easy to change up throughout the week. Chicken, rice and vegetables all cook quickly and taste great with different sauces and cheeses.
Most families throw away so much food on a weekly basis. A better idea is to turn your dinner leftovers into a lunchtime feast. Apps like BigOven help you use your leftovers to make yummy, new dishes. All you have to do is enter the ingredients you have, and the app will show you different recipe options for your leftovers. You'll save money using food that would have been thrown out.
If you know you have $400 to spend per month on your food budget, that's roughly $100 a week. Whether you shop once or twice per week or use cash or credit doesn't matter as long as you stay within your spending limits. Just be sure to only spend the amount you allotted per week.
Keep your shopping list in a set location so all members of the household can access it. Write estimated prices of the items you are going to buy next to each item on the checklist. It can serve a dual purpose as a price book you can use to guess how much you will spend.
If you've ordered from the kids menu at a restaurant recently, then you know how big the meals are – they're almost as big as meals for adults, and they can cost up to $10 each. If you have multiple children, an easy way to cut down on this expense is to have them share a meal. Not only does this lower the cost of feeding everyone, but it also cuts down on food waste.
Most stores are open late, and without the distraction of announcements, people and maybe even your kids, you can have your own Zen moment. When you are clearheaded, you're more likely to zone in on what you really need and leave out what you really don't. Plus, it's easier to give the cashier coupons without causing any delays for the people in line behind you.
We are a society consumed by all sorts of apps, but if you want to grocery shop, save money and still be lazy, let Favado, an app created by Savings.com, do the work for you. The app will tell you about items on sale from different stores, and if there is a store coupon or manufacturer coupon, it will also let you know that too. (Of course, you can just use it to scan the weekly ads to keep things simple.) And if you're already glued to your smartphone, it's easy to incorporate into your shopping routine.